The employer of four Americans and an Austrian who were kidnapped in Iraq said Thursday that it hoped the release of a videotape showing the men would lead to talks with their captors on how to secure their release.
The contractors employed by Crescent Security Group, based in Kuwait, spoke briefly and appeared uninjured in a video believed to have been recorded on Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, and delivered Wednesday to The Associated Press.
"Crescent Security is thankful to the people holding the 5 contractors for their obvious and stated fact that the personnel are all being treated well," the company said in a statement.
"We take heart that the people holding the 5 personnel are releasing information on the well-being of the men and it is hoped that this is the gateway to negotiations between those holding the men and us to secure their release," the company said.
The men were kidnapped Nov. 16 when suspected militiamen in Iraqi police uniforms ambushed a convoy of trucks being escorted by Crescent Security on a highway near the southern border city of Safwan.
U.S. Embassy spokesman Lou Fintor said the State Department was in touch with the families of the American captives, and that the embassy was working with U.S.-led forces and the Iraqi government in an effort to ensure their safe return.
"We are aware of press reports of videotapes of American hostages held since Nov. 16, but have no independent confirmation of the existence or veracity of any videos," Fintor said. "We have no information on who may be holding these American citizens."
In the videotape, the captives were dressed in civilian clothes and identified themselves in a flat, impassive tone. Several had their hands folded in their laps.
The kidnappers were not seen or heard in the video, which was digitally stamped with the dates Dec. 21 and Dec. 22, 2006. It began with an image of a Koran and a map of Iraq over a green background, changing to a title that read, "The National Islamic Resistance in Iraq. The Furkan Brigades. The captivity operation was done in the Safwan district in Basra."
Safwan is a Sunni Arab city in a predominantly Shiite area. It was unclear whether the kidnappers were holding the contractors to put political pressure on American-led occupation forces and the U.S.-backed Iraqi government, or were seeking a ransom. U.S.-led forces have conducted raids in an effort to rescue the men.
Another video of the captives surfaced last week and was reported by McClatchy Newspapers. That video was believed to have been recorded two weeks after the men were kidnapped.
On its Web site, Crescent Security says it provides security "to clients wishing to travel to, from and within all regions of Iraq," as well as for base camps and temporary facilities in Iraq.
It says its teams are monitored "via satellite tracking devices with integrated alert button facilities," and that clients are offered a choice of entirely Western security teams, or a mix of Western and Iraqi contractors.